U.S. Agents Seize 10 Million Counterfeit N95 Face Masks

Date: Friday, February 19, 2021
Source: Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—Federal agents have seized approximately 10 million counterfeit N95 face masks bearing the 3M Co. logo in recent weeks, officials said Wednesday, as they urged thousands of hospitals and medical facilities to stop using suspected fakes.

The Department of Homeland Security said the counterfeit masks were made in China. The most recent interdiction occurred Wednesday, with the seizure of hundreds of thousands of masks from an East Coast warehouse at an undisclosed location.

Acting on leads from 3M, DHS officials said they have seized counterfeit items in five states and have opened criminal investigations.

“They are extremely dangerous,” Steve Francis, director of the Intellectual Property Center for DHS’s Homeland Security Investigations unit said at a news conference. “They are providing a false sense of security to our first-line responders and to the American consumers.”

Officials said grammatical errors or typos on packaging or user instructions are telltale signs of counterfeit items. They said they have contacted about 6,000 hospitals, clinics and others who may have purchased counterfeit masks, urging them to stop using the masks and contact DHS immediately.

DHS officials said the department is working with the Justice Department to bring criminal charges against the those involved in the counterfeit sales.

The seizures of the fake masks are part of the DHS’s initiative to respond to fraud and criminal activity related to Covid-19, nicknamed Operation Stolen Promise. Working with U.S. customs agents, the officials have seized more than 1,800 shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited Covid-19 test kits, personal protective equipment and other items.

According to a recent report by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, customs agents seized nearly 13 million counterfeit face masks in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, as well as 177,000 test kits prohibited by the Food and Drug Administration and 38,000 chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine tablets that were barred by the FDA.

3M said in January it had investigated more than 9,900 reports of suspected fraud, counterfeiting and price gouging around the world and have successfully removed of tens of thousands of e-commerce listings with fraudulent or counterfeit product offerings and false or deceptive social-media posts.

The company maintains a website that provides information related to fraud, counterfeiting and price gouging, including how to identify counterfeit masks.


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